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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Volunteering gives a sense of purpose and meaning

People who volunteer in the UAE have a chance to look beyond their own circumstances, says Tariq Al Gurg

Dubai Cares has helped schools like Alemere primary school in Amolatar, Uganda, whose grounds are pictured here, to make it more accessible for children with special needs. Roberta Pennington / The National
Dubai Cares has helped schools like Alemere primary school in Amolatar, Uganda, whose grounds are pictured here, to make it more accessible for children with special needs. Roberta Pennington / The National

When we consider the challenges facing societies today, now is not the time for the world to become insular and self-seeking. Rather, as a global community, we must come together to encourage and celebrate those who are willing to give up one of our most precious commodities – time – to support those in need. That is the aim of International Volunteer Day (IVD), mandated by the United Nations and celebrated around the world. This year follows the theme "volunteers act first. Here. Everywhere". The day aims to inspire and empower others to give, helping those who need support today to live with dignity tomorrow.

As a global philanthropic organisation, we are inspired every day by the commitment, dedication and passion of our volunteers, who instantly respond to calls, whether locally or globally. We also encourage everyone to find a cause they believe in and invest their time and energy to support those in need. In the United Arab Emirates, the charitable organisation Dubai Cares has witnessed firsthand how much impact the act of volunteering can have in the context of bringing education to under- served communities. One example is Volunteer Emirates, a Dubai Cares initiative that aims to engage volunteers to enrich the learning environment for students across the UAE by rehabilitating schools and distributing school kits to non-profit schools and centres. Inclusivity and equality in education are fundamental to the initiative, not only in what it hopes to achieve but how we aim to make it happen. We provide volunteering opportunities to thousands of people in the UAE for this very reason and without their support, the positive change we are witnessing today would not have been possible.

Beyond the UAE, our Volunteer Globally initiative has engaged volunteers from the UAE in the construction of schools in remote communities in developing countries. Tens of schools have been constructed globally by our volunteers and donors through our Adopt a School initiative. It is always fascinating to witness the quick and selfless response from the volunteers when provided with the opportunity to embark on such missions. Thanks to their valuable support, we are able to provide a safe learning environment to students so they can thrive and build a better future for themselves, their families and their community.

Dubai Cares isn’t the only organisation working towards the same outcome on International Volunteer Day. The UAE government has led by example, particularly with the launch of the UAE Volunteer Platform, which aims to grow the UAE volunteer community by matching an individual’s skills to related opportunities. To date, the platform is supported by more than 280,000 volunteers and I personally am one of them.

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Moreover, the Dubai Community Development Authority (CDA) recently launched the Dubai volunteering programme to manage volunteering services in the UAE. The programme links initiatives and events organised by various authorities and organisations with willing volunteers, fostering a spirit of unity throughout the community. This programme, which has adopted the slogan "volunteering makes the UAE proud", provides those who are interested in volunteering with an opportunity to register and actively serve the community, as well as helping to spread a culture of volunteerism across the UAE. The initiative invites men and women, academics, professionals and experts to devote time and effort to improve people's lives, support the community and gain a sense of fulfilment.

Education and volunteering have gone hand in hand for many years. As Dubai Cares has witnessed, when devoting our time to help others, knowledge is one of the most empowering tools we can provide. The power of education and its impact on the lives of the underprivileged and those whose lives have been affected by conflict or natural disasters is now common knowledge. Those who are affected by conflict or disaster often see education as their only hope.

This is Dubai Cares' aim – to bring quality education to those who need it the most and on the occasion of International Volunteer Day 2017, I urge the wider UAE community to consider their own role in supporting those in need.

When deciding to embark on this journey, start by identifying what causes matter to you and which you wish to support. Once you’ve done that, begin to identify local opportunities within your community where you can lend a hand. Later on, if you choose to, start looking beyond your community to the wider global community.

Volunteering not only provides people with an important sense of purpose and meaning, it also gives them the chance to look beyond their own circumstances and appreciate what others are experiencing. I am confident that those of us who volunteer regularly are healthier, happier and have a greater sense of personal fulfillment. The difference we will make in someone else’s life will make an even bigger difference in ours.

Tariq Al Gurg is the chief executive of Dubai Cares